An international symposium on biotechnology was last Friday held in Accra to enable players deliberate on how the technology, particularly genome editing and genetically modified organisms could be applied to benefit African farmers and contribute to food security on the continent.
Held on the theme: “Increasing access to new tools, technologies and methods in Africa’s agriculture”, the symposium brought together biotechnologists, plant geneticists, crop and animal scientists, seed breeders, biotech regulators, farmers and government officials.
Speaking at the event, Ghanaian plant geneticist and founding Director of the West Africa Centre for Crop Improvement (WACCI) of the University of Ghana, Professor Eric Yirenkyi Danquah, said modern biotechnology tools such as the genome editing and GMOs were critical to advancing agriculture and food security in Africa.
For him, scientific innovations such as the genome editing and GMOs could not be ignored in agriculture, if Africa was to feed herself and remain self-reliant.
That, he added, smallholder farmers in Africa in particular needed access to biotech crops more than farmers anywhere else in the world, arguing that the time has come for African governments to use available data on biotech solutions to take decisions that would improve livelihoods and lift millions out of extreme hunger and poverty in the African region.
Prof. Danquah is of the view that the growing African populations required innovation and scientific technologies that would enable African farmers to produce more on less farms, hence the need to adopt genome editing technology and other biotech tools, including GMOs.
He expressed the concern that farmers across the globe were struggling with the devastating impacts of climate change, stressing that the changing climatic conditions had made biotechnology tools the most preferred solutions.
For her part, the Eastern Africa Director of International Institute of Tropical Agriculture and Leader of Biotechnology, Dr Leena Tripathi, expressed the concern that farmers across many African countries continue to lose greater percentage of their yields through pest infestation and diseases, thus leaving many in abject poverty.
That, she added, when farmers adopt biotechnology tools, it would enable them to overcome some of the burdensome challenges they face in their work, including pest infestation, diseases and low yields.
She explained that scientists use biotechnology tools to provide solutions to farmers, encouraging African governments to see the potential in agricultural biotechnology.
Dr Tripathi said it was not the intention of any biotechnologist to create products that would be harmful to people, societies and the environment, explaining that the pod borer-resistant (PBR) cowpea variety, for instance, had been developed to solve the menace of the maruca pests that attack the crop at all stages of its development and destroy almost 80 per cent of the yields.
She expressed the hope that stakeholders, particularly regulators would expedite work on the Bt Cowpea to enable farmers cultivate more and reduce poverty.
The Deputy Minister of Food and Agriculture, Yaw Frimpong Addo, said agriculture remains a major priority of the government and that the government would continue to invest in the sector to make it more profitable for both the farmers and the country as a whole.
He noted that investment in agriculture, especially in the areas of modern technologies would help to improve productivity which would ultimately contribute to food security.
“The government is not relenting in its efforts to transform agriculture as the sector is the driving force behind the economy, presenting the best opportunity for accelerated industrialisation, job creation and poverty reduction,” the Minister noted.